Environment Policy Committee update

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union Environment Policy Committee continues to tackle many major issues affecting farming communities in Northern Ireland.

The Environment Committee is one of the central policy committees within the Union.

More recently topics have included items such as Nitrates Action Programme and Cross Compliance Standards. There are however a broad range of other topics which are often discussed and these could include waste regulations, Integrated Pollution Prevention Control, climate change, agri-environment schemes and the Floods Directive.

Nitrates Action Programme 2015-2018 and Phosphorus Regulations

The Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and Phosphorus Regulations were reviewed and became effective on 1st January 2015. Some changes to the NAP have been introduced in 2015 and while we still have some concerns, due to UFU activity, this has ensured that these are much less onerous than what was originally proposed by DARD/DOE.

Under the new NAP regulations there have been several key changes;

Records of exports of organic manures must now be submitted annually to NIEA, by 31st January for the previous calendar year.

The duty of the controller to prevent water pollution now covers all types of fertiliser and entry or risk of entry of fertiliser into groundwater.

Closed spreading periods now include chemical phosphate fertiliser on grassland and all types of fertiliser on arable land (unless there is a demonstrable crop requirement)

The length of time poultry litter can be stored in field heaps has been reduced from 180 days to 120 days.

An “N-max” system has been introduced as a maximum nitrogen limit for winter/spring wheat, barley and oats.

Farmers should note the proposed changes to the Nitrates rules and further detail available on new Guidance Booklet can be accessed from http://www.dardni.gov.uk/index/nitrates-action-programme.htm. Farmers should also be reminded that the closed period for spreading organic manures will begin on 16th October 2014 therefore spreading can continue until midnight on 15th October as long as weather and soil conditions are satisfactory. Spreading of farmyard manure (FYM) closed period applies from midnight 31st October. All closed periods last until 1st February 2016. The UFU would encourage farmers to take advantage of the good ground and weather conditions to allow slurry tanks to be managed in advance of the impending closed period.

Northern Ireland Cross-compliance Verifiable Standards

The UFU have lobbied for changes to the current hedge cutting closed period dates. Following moves in England to introduce more flexibility the committee have been working to ensure that a similar approach is introduced in NI.

It is positive that the minister has agreed to introduce a derogation for cutting in August under specific circumstances. While we would prefer to see a shift in the dates entirely, the UFU believes that this will go some of the way in helping ease pressure on farmers.

The UFU also lobbied for the revision of GAEC 4 which removes the requirement for farmers to leave the residues of crops harvested after 01 November undisturbed until just before sowing the following spring.

Instead, farmers harvesting crops after 1 November 2015 will have the option to either leave the stubble of the crop in the land or plough the land and plant a green cover crop.

However, in circumstances where weather and soil conditions prevent this they will be required to put in place measures to limit soil erosion and nutrient loss.

The revised standard also relaxes the rules in certain circumstances when practicing for/holding ploughing matches.